John Blake takes on the make-up for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Marvel’s latest superhero sequel
In Issue 126 of Make-Up Artist magazine, writer Joe Nazzaro talks to the Legacy Effects make-up team about their work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, specifically the characters of Gamora, Drax, Nebula, Yondu, Mantis and the Ravagers. Here Nazzaro talks with Guardians make-up department head John Blake.
Running the make-up department of a big-budget feature can be demanding at the best of times. When the film in question is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that work is immeasurably more complex. While the team at Legacy Effects tackled a handful of principal characters, make-up department head John Blake handled everything else. And a galaxy of make-up is a pretty tall order.
“What I tried to do on the film,” Blake elaborates, “was to tie the quality of the supporting and background cast to the same artistic level as our principal
“I came to the show knowing my job was the other characters, including people from a planet where they all had gold skin. We had the Ravagers, a group of pirate-like aliens with lots of prosthetic scars, tattoos and dirty teeth, just trying to figure out what would have the biggest impact, while looking like they were in the same movie as the cool make-ups done on the main characters. I’m really proud of those background pirate characters, because a lot of them were quite complicated. We sometimes had as many as 60 of them in prosthetic make-ups and tattoos.
“There was a group of characters called the ‘Love-Bots,’ which were like robot prostitutes, and I was fortunate to get the chance to design the make-ups for those characters. The people at Legacy designed the costumes, while we created some small prosthetics that were incorporated in the make-up.
“When all is said and done, my department probably ended up doing thousands of transfer appliances for scars and eyebrow covers. And there were characters that just had basic beauty make-ups, so what I’m proud of is we were able to cover the entire spectrum of make-up skills.
“What I was hoping to avoid was a big gap between the people that had gone through special make-up, and the people that went through my department with some of them in 10-hour make-up jobs, and others looking like they just got off the bus and got thrown into the movie.”
Blake is particularly pleased with the “Comfort Bots” (originally called the Love-Bots), which started as a group of girls painted yellow. “There was nothing really interesting about them,” notes Blake, “so I thought they would be more robot-looking if we took out the eyebrows and hairline, and used brightly-colored wigs on them.
“I brought in a model and said [to the producers], ‘I’m just going to do this on my own time, but let me try doing something and see what you think of it.’ I did a make-up where I used a bald cap, took out her eyebrows and hairline, painted her lips blue and white and put some eyelashes on upside down. The director really liked it, so that’s what we ended up doing.
“The problem was, I then had to figure out how to do 20 of them. The team from Legacy helped out and they did a really great job, and I also had some people in Atlanta who stepped up to the plate and did a really great job. We had really early calls a couple of times, but we were able to get all 20 of them done.”
Another group of characters that fell under Blake’s care was the gold-skinned Sovereigns, led by Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha.
“I wanted to get a nice-looking gold,” recalls Blake, “which is more difficult than it sounds. There’s a lot of gold make-up out there, but some of it doesn’t really have a metallic gleam, while others have the metallic gleam but can look very texture-y and crusty, so it was just a matter of mixing batch after batch of different materials before I could come up with a gold that had the right amount of softness and metallic gleam to it. It [also] had to stay on, but was easy to get off.”
Blake is also pleased with the Ravagers his department created. “Camille Friend [the hair department head] did the hairstyling, but they are very pirate-y make-ups. In order to make them even more alien-looking, I used eyebrow covers to block out their eyebrows, which automatically gave them more of an unusual look, and many of them had weird contact lenses to give them an alien look.
“There were a number of prosthetic Ravagers as well as the characters that Legacy did, so anything with a heavy prosthetic, the Legacy guys did them. I basically did the humanoid Ravagers and the pink, blue and yellow Ravagers. As far as making them look different than pirates, I guess pirates have a more pirate-y look to them, while our guys have more of a funky alien look—using more prosthetics and tattoos to get them on the same page as the main cast and their accompanying prosthetic work.”
As make-up department head, Blake had an impressive number of A-list actors in his chair over the course of filming. “That included Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone,” he remembers. “I heard Sharon Stone didn’t make the final cut, but Stallone is still in it. If I wasn’t able to do them myself, I would have to have somebody with a lot of experience and an incredible résumé, but most of the time I would make myself available for someone like that.”
Another A-list actor appearing in the film is Kurt Russell, who had Dennis Liddiard as his personal make-up artist, but Blake was responsible for one significant part of his look. “Kurt has a beard in the movie,” he explains, “but there were also some flashback scenes when he was younger and clean-shaven. It was originally scheduled that he would use his real beard and shave it for those scenes, but decisions were made that I didn’t understand, where they wanted him to have his beard back on after they were going to shoot the flashbacks and Kurt would not have had time to grow his beard back, but I was able to say, ‘Relax, I can take care of it!’
“It was something I had anticipated knowing there was going to be re-shoots down the line, where they might want Kurt back months later when he didn’t have a beard, so for four or five days, Kurt has a false beard that was a creation of the make-up department. It saved them a lot of money, and hopefully set a new precedent with just one make-up technique. I’m glad I had the opportunity to show that beard work in the hands of a serious make-up artist is a viable tool.”
Looking back at the Guardians 2 experience, “I’m pleased with the design for the Love Bots,” Blake reflects, “because I stuck my neck out to make them happen and might have lost a couple of friends over it, but I’m happy the director took a look at them and said, ‘That’s fantastic!’
“I’m really happy with the work I did on Sharon Stone, even though she’s not in the movie now, but mostly I’m pleased with the way I showed that a make-up department can do a full spectrum of make-up. I was able to say, ‘This is the way I run a department, and this is why it works!’”
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened May 5.
All gallery photos of Ravager make-ups: